Chromebook Question

by Henry Farrell on November 5, 2012

I’m thinking about getting a “Samsung Chromebook”: as a replacement laptop (primarily for light text editing and web browsing). The con appears to be a not very widely used operating system (although I use Google products a lot), the pro is that it looks to be both adequate for purpose and relatively very cheap. Before buying though, I wanted to see whether the hivemind has any useful information on how well ChromeOS stacks up etc. Opinions and information gratefully received …



Clay Shirky 11.05.12 at 5:18 pm

I’ve been using the Samsung Chrome desktop for several months, and it’s remarkably good. So much work has gone into building apps and improving usability in the browser that we’ve finally arrived at what Andreeson saw when he first talked about the browser as the OS.

All that having been said, there is one big open question: how much legacy infrastructure do you have on older desktops or in other parts of the cloud? If you already use GDrive and print with Google Print, you’re good — add apps from the Chrome Store as you go. If you have a lot of stuff in Dropbox, or have work printers you can’t mount through Google Print, then it’s a hassle.

And needless to say, there are classes of media-manipulation apps — Photoshop, Final Cut — that have no significant analogs online, though there are now apps for all the basic ‘cutting, trimming, resizing’ kinds of operations.

The absolute best thing you could do would be to borrow a Chromebook (or use an existing machine in ‘browser-only mode’ for a week to see how it does before you commit to anything.)


Henry 11.05.12 at 5:25 pm

Thanks Clay – that’s very helpful. I have a lot of stuff on Gdrive already … haven’t tried to mount my printer (but then, I only use my printer for class handouts, letters of recommendation, and dire emergencies …). Media manipulation not really an issue for me.


Cian 11.05.12 at 5:27 pm

How is its flash support? I need a laptop for my kids so they can do their online homework.


Substance McGravitas 11.05.12 at 5:30 pm

Why the Chrome OS and not a Linux flavour? The latter will have way more native applications and you’ll get to do other stuff too…


Naadir Jeewa 11.05.12 at 5:33 pm

How about an Android tablet with keyboard, such as the Asus Transformer Prime? Seems to offer the best of both worlds.


Henry 11.05.12 at 5:35 pm

I like me Linux just fine, but looks as though it would cost $100 more to get a machine reasonably capable of running it, and I really don’t need the extra functionality. This said, ChromeOS runs on a cutdown version of Linux (even has a command prompt you can get to), but obviously doesn’t get you Gimp etc.

Cian – from what I can gather from reviews, does just fine w. Flash, although some very complex animations may slow it down.


Nick 11.05.12 at 5:42 pm

Cian: the answer will hinge on what is involved in your kids doing homework. If it is all web-based, then a Chromebook might do. If, however, they need to create powerpoint presentations or turn in papers in .doc format, then this might be a bit more complicated (it might not even work, but I’ll let a Chromebook user be the judge of that).

Et al: I would add this. If it is affordability as well as versatility that you want, then you might consider the iPad or iPad mini (especially since they can get internet out on the road via no-contract cellular service [pay-as-you-go]). If you do lots of typing, then you might consider getting an external keyboard (Apple makes a good one, but so do other companies). Also, Apple suppport is going to be better than any other manufacturer since Apple actually has stores for sales and support. Whenever you have a problem, you can bring the device to an Apple store and talk to a technician face to face. Should you break the device, you can also go to the Apple store for a replacement. Best of all, if you want to learn about all the neat things you can do with your product, then you could get training at the apple store.

And just to pre-empt the “Flash Fallacy.” No one needs flash.

As you can tell, I appreciate certain things about Apple, so perhaps I am biased. I used to rely heavily on Google, but was intermittently dissappointed with the experience. I would say my experience with Apple has been at least as good.


GiT 11.05.12 at 5:52 pm

I’ve got one. My main issue is that it has quite limited functionality without an internet connection, which won’t be a problem if you sign up for monthly data plan, but I’m cheap and subsist on WiFi connections.


Cian 11.05.12 at 6:00 pm

And just to pre-empt the “Flash Fallacy.” No one needs flash.

Well I’ll tell that to my kids when they try to do their homework on the flash based website that their school uses.


Jason 11.05.12 at 6:04 pm

I’ve had a Samsung Chromebook since they came out. There were several ChromeOS updates that made it work a lot better (both in functionality and lack of crashing) over the past six months. It is still somewhat underpowered. One of the reasons it worked for me was that I lived in the Google ecosystem almost completely: Chrome browser on my desktop, Android phone, Google voice, docs, reader, gmail. Since you do, it will probably work very.

It isn’t that super light compared to a iPad 1.0, but still fairly portable for such an inexpensive laptop. (You don’t want to lift it with your wrist too much; I had changed over from a Dell Mini which was terrible, but lighter). Great battery life and short start-up time (that has gotten a little longer since the updates). And Netflix streaming worked pretty well although the speakers were kinda quiet.

I only switched to carrying an iPad because of travel (almost every other week) — for whatever reason you don’t have to take a tablet out of your bag at security (but you do for a Chromebook). I just needed something to check email and do web searches on travel. However, I’d still use the Chromebook at home for Google video chat (I was on a temporary assignment for a year away from my girlfriend) — which worked great.


Jason 11.05.12 at 6:07 pm

I’d second GiT: without WiFi, a Chromebook is basically useless.


fardels bear 11.05.12 at 6:13 pm

I have an ancient HP netbook that runs like a dream with Jolicloud OS:

Jolicloud doesn’t just limit you to the cloud. I have the LibreOffice suite on it, Dropbox, Skype, pretty much anything you can have on a regular laptop. And it runs Flash, which I find very useful at times.

If the old HP goes, I would probably go to Ebay, buy a cheap netbook to replace it. Once I load the OS onto it, Jolicloud would sync all my apps and programs etc. for me. Can’t recommend it highly enough.


christian_h 11.05.12 at 6:30 pm

The iPad is extremely annoying for work purposes, great as it is as an eReader cum television. Ever tried attaching a file to an email? Requires a work-around and/or you paying for certain apps. Ridiculous. The free text editors are awful. Local file management is a joke, and yes, we’re not all connected to the internet all the time (I assume though that a Chromebook might share this problem).


Clay Shirky 11.05.12 at 6:34 pm


I just tested some Flash, and it runs fine.

And as for connectivity, without Wifi most machines are basically useless, but GDrive in offline mode really is quite good. I’ve only ever had two main composing tools — emacs in the 1990s, and BBEdit for the last dozen years, but I switched to GDrive this summer for a big collaborative project, and it’s offline editing mode is remarkable.

It also exports in .doc format well — can’t vouch for .ppt; my allergist has made me swear off…


BJN 11.05.12 at 6:55 pm

I don’t know what it is about tablets, but having used but never owned one, discussions always sound like this to me:


L33tminion 11.05.12 at 6:58 pm

My impression of the Chromebook from my use is that it does just one thing (run a web browser), but that one thing is really most of what I do with my computer, and it does that one thing really well. It’s incredibly fast, secure, and lightweight. I’m not yet at the point where I’d replace my primary laptop with a Chromebook, but it certainly seems appealing in that netbook niche.

Full disclosure: I work for Google, but not on anything related to Chrome / Chrome OS.


Substance McGravitas 11.05.12 at 7:13 pm

For affordability, I tend to just buy used and then run whatever. The Lovely Daughter has a nasty and underpowered netbook that somehow choked on its Windows install but after a disc wipe it nevertheless runs X-Linux just fine.


Substance McGravitas 11.05.12 at 7:15 pm

Hmm, though Google Drive seems to be absent from Linux, so forget that. Maybe there’s some workaround.


hix 11.05.12 at 8:10 pm

Id be very surprised if a school that does web based homework will be anything other than painfull for children that dont have a proper windows comp with word.


Cian 11.05.12 at 8:19 pm

Fardels, thanks. That looks like a superior option for my purposes.


Substance McGravitas 11.05.12 at 8:30 pm

Id be very surprised if a school that does web based homework will be anything other than painfull for children that dont have a proper windows comp with word.

That would depend on how kooky the Flash is, but most Linux installs come with a Firefox that does fine, and LibreOffice is terrific.


Cian 11.05.12 at 9:05 pm

Yeah, but the Chromebook is based upon an ARM chip. Plus flash is no longer officially supported on Linux, except through Chromium.

And my kids are 5, so Word isn’t really a worry just yet. But yet web based homework. Go figure.


LFC 11.05.12 at 10:00 pm

I have a Google-related question that maybe someone here could answer. I’m thinking of getting a Google e-mail address but keeping my current, non-Google address as the main one. I’d also like to continue logging into various things, including Blogger (which of course is owned by Google), with my current address. I’m wondering, if I do set up a Google email address, whether Blogger will “know” that I have it and proceed to cause log-in or other problems. I’m assuming the answer is ‘no’ but I’m not sure. (I realize this blog is not a help desk but since the thread is basically about Google I thought asking this would be ok.)


Substance McGravitas 11.05.12 at 10:12 pm

It should be fine, but you can always test with a different couple of addresses in another browser.


LFC 11.05.12 at 10:38 pm



BJN 11.05.12 at 11:21 pm

You can now be signed into multiple google accounts at once, and slip between them. Click on the little arrow next to your name in the upper right and choose add account. Now when signed into both you can switch by going to the same arrow and choosing which account you want.


LFC 11.06.12 at 2:00 am

That’s helpful, BJN. Thank you.


Chaz 11.06.12 at 2:34 am

Henry: Never used a Chromebook but my understanding is that it’s not designed to be a full computer, just a portal to the wonderful internet. If this is your main computer I would recommend getting better hardware and using Windows or Linux, unless you really really don’t do anything except surf the web and edit .txt files. If it’s a second computer then do what you want, it’s probably fine (as long as that internet connection’s always available!). But you can get an Asus netbook with Windows for the same price.

People with homework: Yeah, your silly teacher will want .doc, even though Word supports OTF now, and if the kid ever does an in-class presentation they’ll need to bring it in a format PowerPoint can read. LibreOffice (for Win or Linux) can do .docs and .ppts well–occasional formatting issues are pretty much unavoidable but they’re not common or major. Last time I used Google Docs it could read and write .docs but it mangled them badly.

LFC: Yes, if you are logged into your Gmail account in another tab or from earlier in the same session it will take over. Same goes for Facebook. You’ll have three options: 1) Log in and out a lot 2) Do what BJN says assuming it works well or 3) Do different things in different browsers (ie one task in Firefox, one in Chrome, one in Opera).


David 11.06.12 at 3:20 am

Read the review over at I’d come down as a no.


john b 11.06.12 at 4:01 am

On the “useless without wi-fi” point raised above: medium-spec Android phones (my Galaxy II has it, and is positively ancient in Android terms) work as wireless hotspots, allowing any wi-fi device to use your cellphone data connection. Massively helpful feature.


Jeff Yablon 11.06.12 at 4:05 am

I’ve been using the new Chromebook for a couple of days, and my recommendation is simple: dive in:


Keith Edwards 11.06.12 at 5:40 am

Does Scrivener work on a chromebook? That would be the deal breaker for me as I use scrivener for my fiction writing and am in dire need of a new computer, as my old one (a G4 mac mini) is so out of date I can no longer upgrade anything on it and it’s slowly dying.


Gary L 11.06.12 at 5:41 am

My family owns a Chromebook and Chromebox, and they have become our primary computers for about 90% of our computing needs. We have dumped Windows entirely. We also have a tablet, but it’s basically just for games or when both Chrome OS devices are in use. The reasons we switched are the super-fast boot, the maintenance free operation, and the stability of the OS. We have found ways to do everything we used to do on Windows with Chrome OS using web apps, including documents, spreadsheets, webmail, streaming Music and video, photo editing, video editing, etc.. Between the home WiFi connection and 3G capability of the Chromebook on Verizon, we’re basically never offline so the limited offline capabilities are not an issue. I highly recommend them. Flash works fine by the way. If you spend a lot of time outside of a browser then maybe it’s not for you.


Katherine 11.06.12 at 10:26 am

medium-spec Android phones (my Galaxy II has it, and is positively ancient in Android terms) work as wireless hotspots, allowing any wi-fi device to use your cellphone data connection.

Was just going to say that. My Google Nexus mini-tablet only has wi-fi, not 3G, but I can tether it to any 3G enabled phone and off I go. Or just use one of the expanding number of free wi-fi services provided by local coffee shops, pubs or restaurants.

And if I may, since we’re on a techie question thread – I’m looking for a tablet-like device for my daughter, who is coming up 5. I’m not looking to spend very much, but it’s birthday and Christmas combined, so I’ve got, say, a £100 budget top wack. Reviews seem to suggest that tablets designed for children are pretty good, but they look so chunky and stupid, and experience suggests that computer devices for children turn out to be under-performing and over-priced. Any thoughts/recommendations/warnings?


Magnus Ramage 11.06.12 at 1:54 pm

Katherine @ 34: There was a good roundup of tablets for young children in PC Advisor recently – (I’m assuming that really was a £ sign so you’re in the UK – I don’t know whether these products are available in all markets.) Some of these sound quite convincing, though the better-reviewed ones are on non-standard platforms from the likes of VTech, so you’re locked in to their apps.

An alternative would be to buy a cheap Android tablet (there are a few respectable no-name ones for less than £100, and people report names in online forums, though I’m afraid I don’t know what they are).

The Register has a good overview of 7″ tablets today – none are less than £100, but with care a couple at least can be bought for just above that (the RIM Playbook is £109 and doesn’t use Android but does run some Android apps; the Acer A110 is £130 after cashback).


Aaron Helton 11.06.12 at 2:15 pm

I have one of the original Chromebooks that Google sent out for free in early 2011. Specs-wise, it’s dated, and it struggles to run the latest Chrome OS. That said, it is my go-to laptop and serves about 90% of the needs I have that sit between a full desktop and my iPad. I program on it, I write things on it, and I use it for Google Reader (which is a terrible experience on the iPad). So based on my experience and knowing that the Samsung Chromebook is likely to have better hardware, I would recommend it.


adam.smith (was Sebastian(1)) 11.06.12 at 2:51 pm

Haven’t used a chromebook but considered it, as I tend to like things google does.
For me a big downside was that there is no reference manager (apart from – kindof – Refworks) that runs on Chromebook, particularly no Zotero (but also: no Mendeley, no Papers, and for the masochists, no Endnote, either).


Nick 11.06.12 at 5:08 pm

Cian: I see now how my comment was insensitive. My apologies.

What I should have said (because this is what I had in mind) is “No one should use Flash.” Flash puts unnecessary burdens on computers. There are other ways to produce Flash-like animations that do not place such burdens on the processor (e.g. HTML5). And as already mentioned Flash-compatibility is not available on all devices. That being said, using Flash places unnecessary burdens on computers and unnecessary limits on those looking to buy computers.

I wish you’re children’s school had not committed to a Flash-based curriculum. It poses unnecessary obstacles for computers and for the parents who have to decide what computers to purchase.

I am glad that the Chromebook will work out for you.


Kunal 11.06.12 at 5:34 pm

I am surprised no ne has mentioned this yet, but there will be a whole bunch of win 8 tablets on the market shortly, with a full range of powerfulness. I would wait a few months if I were you. In fact I am in a similar boat, with ipad being no good for work, and am waiting to see if one of those suits me needs.


Henry 11.06.12 at 6:36 pm

I have one of the original Chromebooks that Google sent out for free in early 2011. Specs-wise, it’s dated, and it struggles to run the latest Chrome OS. That said, it is my go-to laptop and serves about 90% of the needs I have that sit between a full desktop and my iPad. I program on it, I write things on it, and I use it for Google Reader (which is a terrible experience on the iPad). So based on my experience and knowing that the Samsung Chromebook is likely to have better hardware, I would recommend it.

If by some bizarre chance, anyone at Google or Samsung is reading this, and wants to send me a free Chromebook, happy to review it ;) Like a few of the people above, I have a phone running plain vanilla Android, that can serve as a tether for Internet access. Thanks all for the recommendations.


Katherine 11.06.12 at 9:21 pm

Thanks Magnus, that’s really helpful.


Alex C 11.07.12 at 12:28 pm

As an academic, you might consider a tablet with keyboard over a Chromebook. As someone said above, both are just slim portals to the Internet. You’ll anyway want a bigger home/office computer anyway for the odd thing they can’t do.

For me, a tablet’s killer app is the ability to carry around a database of annotated papers. They also double as an excellent e-reader. I have an iPad, but I imagine Windows and Android gadgets would do this too.


Chaz 11.08.12 at 6:23 am

Nick, yeah, Flash is terrible. Firefox crashes all the time for me and Flash is always involved. However Flash is ubiquitous and is basically the standard for video and animation on the web. For a long time it was the only game in town and so it’s what all the web programmers know. HTML5’s new and not universally supported. Flash actually is very widely supported–it’s basically just iOS and very low-quality browsers built into TVs and such that don’t support it. So even though Flash sucks and Adobe is planning to abandon it, sites will continue to require it for a long time. Even after HTML5 is well established many sites (especially small-time operations like schools) will continue using Flash because they don’t want to pay someone to redo their system or because their in-house guys only know the old ways.* These things do not change quickly.

*Which is probably why Apple refuses to allow Flash for iOS application development. They know that if they let them tons of companies will hire programmers who only know how to hack things out in Flash, and the resulting poor performance will make iOS look bad.


Steve J 11.08.12 at 6:52 am

Apple doesn’t allow flash on iOS because then Apple would lose control of the platform. Flash allows you to load and run applications that don’t have approval from the Apple Store.

It has nothing to do with the particular features of Flash. Similarly, Apple doesn’t allow Java. Apple doesn’t allow you to run a Commodore64 emulator, because the C64 had a BASIC interpreter!

No interpreters of any kind are allowed. Because once you allow any interpreter of any kind (including Flash), users can use it to run any program they want, (even write their own programs!) without Apple being able to exercise a veto.

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